Polar Vantage V2 review: Not enough of an upgrade

 

An effective training companion that’s packed with features but the Grit X is nearly as good and cheaper

Pros Light and comfortableNew running fitness, cycling and leg recovery testsPolar Flow is still greatCons Lacks full mapsNo local music storage

Fitness bands below £100 are ten a penny these days but, for the more serious athlete, watches like the Polar Vantage V2 live in a less crowded marketplace. That doesn’t make your choice any easier, however: with premium devices packing in a huge variety of features picking the best out for you is becoming increasingly tricky.

Even within each manufacturer’s own ranges, deciding which watch to buy can be difficult, and Polar is no different. The Vantage V2 is ostensibly the follow up to the Vantage V, released back in 2018 but it shares more in terms of features and hardware with the Polar Grit X, which was released more recently in 2020.

Polar Vantage V2 review: What do you get for the money?

The Polar Vantage V2 takes the Grit X’s feature and builds upon it, adding a handful of new features and bumping up the price. It’s now Polar’s top-end fitness wearable and it costs a serious £449 for the watch on its own – or £489 for the watch with the Polar OH10 heart rate chest belt bundled. If you’re going to buy one, I’d recommend the latter option as some of the more advanced functions don’t work unless you use a Polar chest belt.

At this price, it goes up against some pretty strong opposition. The Garmin Forerunner 745 is the natural rival at this price (around £479) and you can get the more fully featured Fenix 6 Pro and Forerunner 945 for around the same amount. However, it’s Polar’s own Grit X that poses the stiffest challenge to the Vantage V2 as the additional features really are rather limited and it costs significantly less (£379).

In isolation, though, the Vantage V2 makes a good first impression; in fact, I rather prefer its design to the Polar Grit X. Its aluminium body is a lot lighter at just 52g (including the wristband) and it’s significantly more comfortable to wear.

Polar fans will be pleased to know that the buttons are positioned exactly the same as they are on the Grit X (and, by extension, the previous Vantage), with three on the right and two on the left edges. They’re a little narrower and longer than the circular buttons on the Grit X and they have a slightly more positive click to them, but that’s where the differences end.

And the watch is reasonably attractive to look at. It’s available in three different colourways. A grey body with a black strap, a grey body with a green strap, or a silver body with a light grey strap. The only negative is that the strap attaches to the body of the watch with a proprietary connector rather than a standard 18mm or 22mm spring pin, so you’re stuck with Polar’s style.

Otherwise, it’s pretty standard Polar fitness watch fare. The 1.2in 240 x 240 pixel display is okay but nothing special. It uses reflective memory-in-pixel technology, which means it’s super easy to read in bright conditions but looks a little anaemic indoors and at night because it needs to be front-lit. There’s an ambient light sensor that adjusts the brightness of that front light depending on conditions, though, which is a nice touch.

It has support for the GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and QZSS satellite positioning systems, as well as assisted GPS for faster initial lock. It makes use of Polar’s latest eight-LED “Precision Prime” heart rate sensor – the same as on the Grit X – and includes a barometric altimeter for more accurate tracking of ascents and descents. As far as external sensors go, there’s support for Bluetooth LE (low energy) hardware but not ANT+.

Polar Vantage V2 review: What new features does it have?

The Vantage 2 wraps up all the features from the original Vantage V and Grit X and adds a few extras. There are new customisation options available for watch faces allowing you to change accent colours and control which widgets are displayed. And you can now control music from the watch, although there’s no on-watch music storage, unfortunately.

The main new features, however, surround the expansion of the watch’s fitness tests. Where the Vantage V only offered the orthostatic (see below for details) and generic fitness tests for establishing baseline stats such as VO2 Max, the Vantage V2 adds running, cycling and leg recovery tests into the mix. The idea is that these help you to more accurately set things like your zones for heart rate, speed and power for more effective training.

The running test is fairly straightforward. First, you set your start speed and then, after a short warm-up, the watch guides you through the test, steadily increasing the target speed until your heart rate reaches a certain level. For a less-strenuous test, this can be 85% of your maximum heart rate, which Polar calls the sub-maximal test, or you can carry out the so-called maximal test, which pushes you to the point that can run no longer i.e. you’ve hit your maximum heart rate.

After the test, you’re given your VO2 Max number, maximal aerobic power and maximum aerobic speed stats and the next time you log into the app Polar offers to update your settings based on the results.

The cycling test is slightly different but the aim is the same: it’s used to provide a way of more accurately assigning your power and heart rate zones so subsequent training can be better optimised. The big catch is that you need an expensive power meter to use the feature – it won’t work with the watch on its own.

As with the running test, the watch guides you through after a short warmup, except instead of steadily increasing pace, you’re encouraged to find the maximum power “you believe you can keep up for the whole test” and hold it there. The length of the test can be 20, 40 or 60 minutes.

At the end you are shown your FTP (functional threshold power) value in Watts, your maximum heart rate and your VO2 max.

Finally, the Leg recovery test is designed to gauge whether your legs have recovered enough since your last training session to go out again. Here, the watch measures the height you’re able to jump from a standing start, the theory being if you can’t reach your baseline height, your legs haven’t recovered and you should adjust your training accordingly.

I didn’t find this to be particularly useful, though, mostly because I can’t jump very high in the first place and the results never seemed to vary all that much.

Polar Vantage V2 review: What other features are there?

This is a pretty serious, high-end fitness watch, so it’s also packed with sorts of other modes and features, in addition to smartwatch-type features for delivering notifications and tracking your day-to-day activity and sleep.

There are sport modes for all the core activities – indoor/outdoor running, indoor/outdoor cycling, pool/open water swimming and walking – plus a huge selection of more specific and esoteric sporting activities from badminton to yoga and everything in between.

The watch delivers all the stats you’d expect, too, plus some extra. On an outdoor run, for example, the watch will track speed and pace and heart rate, plus cadence and altitude but it will also deliver running power, directly on the watch – useful if you tend to train in very hilly terrain. While swimming, it not only recognises laps and pace but also stroke types and even heart rate.

And, as with most other rivals, in addition to simply tracking your workouts, you can use the Polar Flow app or website to create a more in-depth training plan, complete with structured workouts and analyse your performance afterwards. Polar’s various running programs take the work out of training for a 5km, 10km, half marathon or marathon, but aren’t quite as adaptive as the Garmin Coach system.

If you’re at a loose end, a choice of daily workouts are suggested via Polar’s FitSpark system and there’s a choice between two different recovery advice systems as well.

Recovery Pro requires you to use a Polar H9 or H10 chest belt to measure your heart rate variability regularly using the “orthostatic” test. It’s a bit laborious and involves lying still for a few minutes while your heart rate is measured. Alternatively, you can simply opt for the sleep-based Nightly Recharge, which measures similar stats via the optical sensor and compares it with your baseline, indicating if your body is well recovered and ready for cardio training, or stressed and ready for a rest.

The Vantage V2 also comes with all the new features from the Polar Grit X. Hill splitter detects ascents and descents, making it easier to track and analyse performance in hilly terrain. For training sessions longer than 1hr 30mins, Polar’s FuelWise feature is on hand to advise you when to take on carbs and drink so you never “hit the wall”. There’s also route-planning and turn-by-turn breadcrumb navigation via Komoot, although as I noted in my review of the Grit X, this is fiddly and doesn’t work in tandem with planned, scheduled workouts.

Polar Vantage V2 review: How well does it perform?

Generally, the Vantage V2 performs pretty much the same as the Polar Grit X, which is hardly surprising given it’s pretty much the same watch in hardware terms. That is to say, it’s solid in general but not exceptional.

I’ll start with the GPS. As with the Grit X, the GPS works as well as most rivals. I compared it mainly with the Garmin Forerunner 745 for the purposes of this review and both watches were as good/bad as each other in most of my tests. Sometimes it would appear to track corners and small movements accurately, at other times it wouldn’t, but it was always there or thereabouts.

The only issue I had with the V2 here is the same as the Grit X: under heavy tree cover and when running under bridges or through tunnels the pace and power readings tend to drop dramatically, only picking up when you emerge. That’s bad news if you’re trying to stick rigidly to a pace or power zone during a workout but it is at least predictable, so once you know about it you won’t panic the next time it happens.

As for heart rate, it’s much the same story: not bad but not brilliant, either. Once I’d warmed up fully it tended to match the MyZone-MZ3 chest belt and Garmin HRM-Pro chest belts most of the time, give or take a beat or two and, overall, maximums, minimums and averages were on the money.

As with all optical heart rate monitors, however, it’s slower to respond to changes in heart rate than a chest belt so it’s less useful for things like heart-rate based interval training, where you’re aiming to keep your heart rate in a given range for short periods of time.

Battery life is excellent. Polar rates the watch at 40 hours for continuous GPS use – or seven days for general use with continuous heart-rate tracking. I found that an hour of running would deplete the battery between 4% and 5% and, with mixed use of around five hours workout tracking I needed to charge it on average around once every five days.

That’s not far off the seven-day claim, although my experience indicates that if you were to turn on GPS and leave it on, you’re more likely to get around 25 to 30 hours of total continuous GPS use before needing to recharge. The good news is that this is easily enough to cover you for a marathon and beyond and endurance athletes who need even longer battery life are covered. Simply tweak the power save settings so the GPS recording rate is once a minute or every two minutes (instead of every second) and you can extend the battery life up to a quoted 100 hours of continuous tracking.

Finally, a word about Polar’s web service and app, both of which I like very much. It’s easy to use, easy on the eye and a lot more user friendly, in my opinion, than Garmin Connect, which is a bit messy by comparison.

Polar Vantage V2 review: Is there anything it isn’t good at?

For a watch at the upper end of the price spectrum, there is, however, plenty missing from the Polar Vantage V2’s feature set. There’s still no onboard mapping tool, just fairly basic breadcrumb navigation. And although planning routes via Komoot does work reasonably well, you can’t combine these route directions with planned training sessions, which is baffling and frustrating in equal measure.

Although Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) sensors are supported, you can’t connect ANT+ sensors and, while the new fitness tests are useful in determining your zones more accurately on a repeatable basis, this is something that rivals’ wearables do automatically.

Personally, I quite like the idea of an easy fitness test you can do on your own. It just feels a bit more repeatable and transparent than a number provided at the end of a workout. What I don’t like is that to do them full justice, you need to do them regularly and that means finding some way of working them into your overall training regimen, which might be tricky if you’re already following a pre-set training program.

Another major shortcoming is that there’s no local music playback feature and, lastly, there’s no way to track blood-oxygen levels with the Polar Vantage V2. This is something even cheap sub-£100 fitness bands are beginning to offer these days, although whether or not this important to you in your daily training is debatable.

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Polar Vantage V2 review: Should I buy one?

The Polar Vantage V2 is undoubtedly a highly competent fitness watch and training companion but, for a handful of reasons, it isn’t quite the class leader Polar wants it to be, although this is more due to a lack of features than any shortcoming in ease of use or performance.

For me, the major misses is that it has neither onboard maps nor local storage for music, both features that Garmin has had for some time in its premium offerings and its new fitness test and recovery features require a bit too much hand cranking for me. It’s also more expensive than, and not a huge improvement on, the Polar Grit X.

On the other hand I rather like the design – it’s light, comfortable and stylish – plus, like all Polar fitness watches of the current generation, the V2 is simple to use and the companion app and website are both excellent.

In the end, though, there are just too many shortcomings compared with rivals for the Polar Vantage V2 to stand out. Unless you’re fully invested in the Polar ecosystem you’re better off looking elsewhere.

Original Article